By Connie Levett Herald Correspondent in Bangkok and agencies - June 3, 2005
An Australian man has been sentenced to 20 years' jail in Vietnam for
attempting to smuggle 150 grams of heroin to Australia through the post.
Tony Tran, 43, an Australian of Vietnamese descent, was arrested in May last year at an airport in Ho Chi Minh City after trying to send the heroin in 15 envelopes with laminated photographs to various addresses in Australia.
He was apprehended after a postal officer in Phu Yen, 500 kilometres north of Ho Chi Minh City, where Tran was tried, became suspicious and reported the packages to police.
Tran pleaded guilty to the charge but insisted there were only 75 grams of heroin in the seized amount, because the rest was powder mixed in. But assessment for the court said there was 150 grams of heroin.
Tran had faced the death sentence. Vietnamese law allows the sentence for heroin amounts over 100 grams. For more than 600 grams it's almost certain, a Western observer in Vietnam said. It would be worth much more in Australia.
"We seized the heroin in the photos before it was sent out, and the crime is punishable by between 20 years in prison and the death sentence, so he was given the lightest sentence," a court official, Nguyen Van Minh, told Deutsche Presse- Agentur.
Much of the heroin routed through Vietnam comes from Laos. "You can get 300 grams of heroin for $US3000 in Laos, it doubles in price as soon as it comes across the border into Vietnam," the observer said.
Mr Minh said the court heard Tran and his girlfriend bought the heroin in Ho Chi Minh City, and tried to post it in portions in May last year. Tran's Vietnamese girlfriend, Le Thi Van, 33, was given 15 years in jail after the two-day trial that ended Wednesday.
Court officials said Van was sentenced to five years less than Tran because she was involved in smuggling 40 grams of heroin.